Behind the scenes with idol maker, Amar Paul

By Ibankyntiew Mawrie

After two years of solemn celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shillong is all set to celebrate this year’s Durga Puja in splendour as the city wears a colourful look during the day and illuminates at night. The well-designed pandals of different shades and colours, with intricate decors and well-sculpted idols, radiate the celebrative and joyful mood of the devotees.

Lest we forget the people working tirelessly behind the scenes, Sunday Shillong brings to you a story of a 78-yr-old idol maker, Amar Paul from Kolkata, who is instrumental in sculpting a 12.5 ft Durga idol, the tallest in all of Meghalaya and Assam.

This idol is being installed at the Sanatan Dharmasabha (Harisabha) Puja Committee in Laban, one of the oldest puja committees in the state as part of its 125th year celebrations.

The Durga idol will don a neatly embroidered Banarasi saree, brought all the way from Varanasi, including ornaments from Krishnanagar in Kolkata; while the materials like clay, bamboo, haystacks, and handmade paints, including helpers were transported from Assam and West Bengal. The total cost runs up to approximately Rs 2 lakh.

Paul has been making idols for the past 62 years since he was 16. He has been frequenting Shillong for the last 20 years and besides, Harisabha, Paul is also working on idols in Rilbong and Rynjah puja committees.

His old age and fragility seem to bear little to no effect on his artistic talent. Clad in a Batik kurta and holding brushes in both his hands, Paul, with high-index lenses on, was seen gingerly applying fresh paint to the sculpted idols at the Harisabha pandal.

“I love this job. I have been doing this for a very long time and I am not stopping anytime soon,” the excited elderly man shared.

It took him about a month to make the 12.5 ft idol and has been visiting Shillong many times to ensure the idol is installed majestically at the pandal.

His fame is spread across the Eastern part of the country. Over the past many years, he has been attending to calls from across Kolkata, Delhi, Assam and Meghalaya. Even at this age, Paul can still make a maximum of 40-50 idols in a season.

“What inspired me to adopt this art? Well, it runs in the family. My grandfather and my father were idol makers – I am following their footsteps,” Paul said. Having recently lost his son, Paul feels a vacuum, but an undeterred Paul continues striving, determined to live up to his ancestors’ expectations.